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Where there’s Smoke

There’s a place in Pebble Beach known far better by tourists than locals. It’s Huckleberry Hill and there, perched at cliff’s edge, you can look out through miles of freshly sprouted Monterey pines to a 180-degree view of the metallic ocean and the white water where it pummels Cypress Point, Spanish Bay and Asilomar State Beach.

Today I park my car at the turnout there and walk along Sunset Lane, Sunridge Road and down trails etched into the forest floor that is spackled with wild irises and little purple posies.

My heart soars. It’s been so long since I’ve been here that I wonder how I could forget this little Nirvana right in my own backyard.

The forest is a metaphor for life: wavering slim trees, bristling with pine cones and emerald needles, have replaced what was once a scorched wasteland.

Yes, approximately 20 years ago a conflagration rampaged through Pebble Beach. It set the sky an eerie orange, devoured estates and killed untold wildlife.

It was a natural thing for the forest to do, they told us, but unfathomable to those who lost their pets, sanctums, photographs and memorabilia . . .

After my walk, I rest on the bench amid the pines and wonder if nature remembers these occurrences. Are our lives, like the emerging young trees, simply a repetitive process – unrecorded and without plan? Or are we seeds that open to life’s fires in order to grow toward a divine purpose?

I close my eyes and hear the whooshing melody of wind through the forest; a woodpecker, “drr-rr-tt” “drr-rr-tt”; a dove, “woo-ooh” . . .

I want to rush home, pick up my neighbor Hattie and take her here – to a place I’m sure she’s forgotten too.

I want to reminisce about how we talked via phone that night as the fire raged and the police cordoned off our streets, intending to evacuate us.

I want to call her like we always do and say, “Are you watching this sunset?” Or borrow her lawn mower. Or have a cup of tea.

How very fine to walk into her home, sniff its yeasty smell from her freshly cooked bread, and sit among her German knick-knacks. To stroke the heads of myriad neighborhood cats she has collected to feed.

But she isn’t there.

This scares up a tear, thank God, because now I have made contact with my soul.

So I hop back into my car and drive to the convalescent home where Hattie now resides. She is smiling as I wheel her outside to sit among the trees. And there, as we bask in the sun’s warming rays and look up to a blue bowl of sky punctuated by furry pines, we reminisce about the fire . . .



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